On the 1st of March 2013 the DoBE and LEAD SA launched a Stop Rape Campaign in response to the horrific rape of the young teenager in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape.  The campaign aimed to reach 10,2 million learners and consisted of a school assembly in which (i) 30 seconds of silence were given to heighten awareness for rape victims, (ii) the National Anthem was sung, (iii) NGOs and ex-rape offenders spoke to the school about rape, and (iv) a pledge was recited by all learners.  The pledge reads as follows:

I pledge:

  • To uphold the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa
  • To abide by the laws of the country
  • To respect the rights of others irrespective of age, race, sex or sexual orientation
  • Not to rape or commit any form of sexual harassment, abuse or violence
  • To report any form of wrongdoing to authorities
  • To honour the responsibilities that come with these rights and to be a good citizen.

Although we acknowledge that the nature of such a campaign is essential in the current South African context, our concerns about the approach taken to address this very sensitive and deep-rooted social issue are manifold.

From a practical point of view, the local schools in our area seemed to be oblivious to the campaign by the end of the school day on the 28th of February 2013.  The reasons for this could be (i) a local municipal water crises that forced some schools in the area to close down, (ii) that the campaign was first announced on the 22nd of February which did perhaps not give enough time to properly distribute information, or (iii) that the campaign was only applicable to schools in major metropolitan areas.  Our concern is thus about the claim of the campaign reaching 10,2 million children and the neglect of semi-rural and rural areas in the DoBE pursuit of heighten rape awareness.

Our second level of concern is curriculum related.  According to the circular about this campaign, the initiative will have vast curriculum implications.  From the campaign documents or supplementary information, we were not able to discern what exactly these implications are.  Of interest to our group is a more concise understanding of what curriculum implications to foresee and if these implications will change existing curriculum or supplementary initiatives. With the limited information available on this matter, we can assume that the matter of rape and accompanying sexual crimes are to be addressed as an add on.  Further research has indicated that an add on approach is ineffective for the following reasons: problems are not tackled “head on” but removed from the context in which they occur; it is a “quick fix” approach to deep-seated matters; and it often leads to dealing with social issue “fatigue” (Cross, 2004).  A transformative approach in which matters of rape and sexual crimes are deeply integrated in the curriculum and that challenges and disrupts teachers and learners’ current ways of knowing and thinking in terms of gender and cultural-stereotyping, might have been more suffice.  In a discussion with a representative of the Minister of Basic Education on this campaign, it was also stated that Life Orientation lesson plans were distributed to schools and will be taught in the week of the 4th to the 8th of March 2013.  Once again proving the quick fix, a-contextual add on approach to a profound social threat – i.e. that of violence and sexual crimes that confirms the wide-spread concern and aggression in the South African society.

In terms of the school assembly that symbolically launched this campaign, we are concerned about the behaviourist nature of the procedure, i.e. the recital of a pledge without any context and/or understanding of what exactly the pledge entails.  In addition, it is claimed that this pledge should be understood in relation to the pledge on the Bill of Responsibilities that learners had to recite several years ago.  However, we question the prominence of the Bill of Responsibilities in schools currently and why it did not stop rape or create rape awareness.  As it is indeed our responsibility to honour the human rights of others.

From an academic point of view we are perplexed by the multiplicity of terminology used by the campaigners.  The concepts rape, sex, gender, sexual orientation, sexual harassment, abuse, violence, race and age (amongst others) are referred to. As a result, we become hesitant of the focal point of the campaign and think that using these multiple concepts could be confusing for teachers, learners and everyone else supporting the pledge. Permeating the pledge with so many complex concepts without exploring these concepts, could also resort to a limited understanding thereof. Therefore, making it difficult to understand and achieve the normative ideals of the pledge.

In conclusion, we acknowledge the importance of activism and campaigns that could better our current societal problems, but we urge our authorities and all other South Africans not to treat these deep-seated social issues in a quick fix manner.  In addition, we urge the DoBE to not use situations as serious as this as a political symbol with hidden agendas.  Lastly, we urge that curriculum and education concerns be addressed by direct stakeholders (i.e. DoBE, teachers, learners, parents, school governing bodies) and that they not be outsourced to NGOs and other indirect stakeholders.  The Stop Rape campaign can educate and create awareness about rape but for it to bring social transformation, it needs to go beyond activism toward rigorous academic engagement and become part of the infused curriculum. Not only a product of the search for a short-term solution.

Petro du Preez & Shan Simmonds

1 March 2013